Thursday, July 23, 2009

Shut Up and Jump!

Nine years ago today, I sat in a trailer, wearing a fluorescent green nylon jumpsuit and watching a "safety and risk" video along with my then-fiancé and two friends. The trailer was parked to the side of an airfield, where Sky's the Limit offered people like me—ordinary, I promise—the thrill of falling thousands of feet through the air. I was about to perform my first-ever parachute jump. Outside, I remember, the sun shone bright: the sky beckoned, clear and blue. Inside the trailer it was dark. And it was dark inside myself. For months I'd been fighting depression. As anyone who has ever been depressed can tell you, a dose of guilt attaches, especially when by external measures your life seems full of good, happy events. Six months earlier, I had completed a Master of Fine Arts program, gotten engaged, and had found a job with a great group of people who would stay friends long after we went separate ways. But I found the transition devastating. After years of relative solitude, listening only to an artist's call, tracing out ideas and images that came to me from a mysterious process of patience and paying attention, my new life came at me noisily, from all sides, shouting down the inner voice that needed quiet and stillness in order to be heard. I was overworked, overextended, overwhelmed with the needs, demands, desires of other people. Inside the trailer, I signed the disclaimer form acknowledging that, put bluntly, what I was about to do could kill me. I did not want to die. I was by no means suicidal. And I am not a thrill-seeking fanatic: skiing of the most benign sort terrifies me. Yet we'd been talking about it for some time, my fiancé and I—he'd jumped once before. I was intrigued and, with life on the ground seeming so flat and heavy, maybe not as scared as I should have been. Plus, as a sort of rally cry, we all had Sky's the Limit bumper stickers to contemplate: "Shut up and jump!" they commanded. So there I was, strapping on a harness, climbing into a tiny plane with a gaping egress, a tandem instructor behind me, ready to push me out if I got cold feet. I jumped. Freefall. Knowing you are falling at hundreds of miles per second, exponentially faster, but perspective so distorted it feels like floating. You imagine, before you experience it, that it will feel like a rushing, forceful pull of gravity, all adrenalin and blurry vision and wind howling in your ears. But in the moment when you first fall, everything is suspended: space, time, activity, thought. I have never in my life experienced such complete silence. Not one sound. I wonder if I will ever again experience as much awe, as much peace. It is different once the parachute opens; it brings you back to yourself. you are aware of your relief (it opened!), aware as you get closer to the ground that, indeed, the land does rush up to meet you. But right then, in that first falling moment, everything falls away. It is not unlike falling in love: you lose yourself, in a good way. You find a new way of being. And if you can do this, you can do anything. Years have passed. I am now not only a wife but also mother to a little boy: I assess risk differently. I know that I will never again make that jump. Never again will I fall like that, physically, feeling weightless and full of wonder. But I carry the memory of perfect silence in the world, and often it helps when the buzz of the quotidian seems too loud. A framed picture of me and my husband hugging right after the jump—After the Fall—sits in our living room. Anyone can see I am more than happy; I am glowing. And this is the thing: although that willing fall did not itself fix anything, did not make depression disappear in an instant, my life is forever divided by it, just as it is by my marriage, by motherhood. There is before, and there is after. I will forever after be, nothing can change it: a woman who fell through the sky.

(Written in response to a prompt from the literary magazine, The Sun.)

1 comment:

  1. well, i wouldn't have done it myself, but at least you can say that you have done it 9which is more than i can say for myself!)